A clean energy transition plan for India

Synopsis: As India’s energy demand grows, India needs to adopt a comprehensive policy to meet the present and future demands.


Energy security is a condition where affordable power is available to everyone. As India grows and its energy demands increase, it faces the twin challenge as apart from energy generation it also has to meet the climate obligations.

What is the energy mix of India?

India enacted the Electricity Act in 2003. India also has doubled the coal-fired thermal power plant (TPP) capacity from 94 GW to 192 GW between 2011 and 2017. This has enabled the government to increase per capita electricity consumption by 37% while reducing the peak demand deficit from 9.8% (2010-11) to 1.6% (2016-17).

Why thermal power is the core for India?

Coal is an affordable source of energy for India. It happens to be the one fossil fuel that is abundantly available in India. Moreover, given India’s geopolitics, gas pipelines are not a viable option for India.

Read more: Coal crisis in India – Explained, pointwise

Thus, TPPs contributed 71% of electricity generated by utilities in India during FY 2020-21, though they accounted for only 55% of the total installed generation capacity of 382 GW (as of March 2021).

What is the status of renewable energy in India?

Variable renewable energy (VRE) sources (primarily, wind and solar) account for 24.7% of the total installed generation capacity. They also contributed 10.7% of the electricity generated by utilities during FY 2020-21.

However, though VRE generation capacity has increased, growth in electricity demand has not. This has resulted in lower utilization of TPPs whose fixed costs must be paid by the distribution companies (DISCOMs) which are in turn passed through to the final consumer.

Read more: Problems with discoms need radical reforms

The current level of VRE in the national power grid is increasing the cost of power procurement for DISCOMs. This has led to tariff increases for electricity consumers.

So the government must implement a plan to increase energy efficiency and reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and airborne pollutants from TPPs without making power unaffordable to industries.

Read more: [Yojana October Summary] Energy Security: Nuclear Power – Explained, pointwise
What should be the future plan of India?

India should begin a progressive retirement of 36 GW of installed generation capacity in 211 TPPs that is having the unit size of 210 MW and below.

This resulting shortfall can be made up through two means. First, by increasing the utilization of existing High-Efficiency-Low-Emission (HELE) TPPs that are currently under-utilized to accommodate VRE.

Second, India should commission the 47 government-owned TPPs (total capacity of 31.6 GW) that are at an advanced stage of construction.

In addition, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is also constructing 11 nuclear power plants with a total generation capacity of 8,700 MW that will supply 24×7 power without any CO2 emissions.

What are some positive trends wrt cost of RE in India?

India has seen the price of solar power fall from over Rs 16 a unit to less than Rs 3 in around 10 years.

The price of battery storage has fallen by an eighth in 10 years.

Within this decade, grid storage is expected to become cost-effective vis-a-vis fossil fuels for electricity needs during the day when renewable generation is inadequate.

Electric vehicles have become commercially competitive earlier than expected. Volkswagen has announced that by 2035 they would stop making internal combustion engine cars.

What will be the estimated benefits of this plan?

HELE TPPs minimize emissions of particulate matter (PM), SO2, and NO2, which offer operational, economic, and environmental benefits.

This plan prioritizes the installation of high-efficiency electrostatic precipitators that can remove 99.97% of the PM pollution without long-term shutdowns or hiking tariffs unlike expensive, imported FGDs (flue gas desulphurization plants).

Thus, this plan will enable India to safeguard its energy security and ensure efficient grid operations with lower water consumption, PM pollution, and CO2 emissions. This will pave the path of sustainable development for India

Source: This post is based on the article “A clean energy transition plan for India” published in The Hindu on 23rd October 2021.

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